State takes strides in reducing unemployment overpayments

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is working to address improper unemployment benefit payments.

A federal review of the state’s programs found massive overpayments, and the feds stepped in to help state officials correct the problem.

So far, it’s working. Colorado reduced overpayments by $1.1 million, said Ellen Golombek, executive director of the state’s Department of Labor and Employment.

According to reports, the state overpaid $160 million to unemployed people in Colorado. Colorado paid out more than $900 million in unemployment claims in 2010, but roughly 18.5 percent of them were erroneous, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) discovered while examining records.

The plan takes a three-pronged approach to improving the state’s over payment – prevention includes increasing the number of staff who process claims, training staff and outreach. Detection and collection efforts include increasing audit staff by more than 30 percent and implementing more sophisticated search and tracking tools.

It’s difficult to address the overpayment problem, Golombeck said.

“Fraud accounts for a relatively small portion of overpayments,” she said. “More often, information regarding a claimant’s separation from work is received after a determination of eligibility is made, or claimants may fail to do a proper search for work, as Colorado law requires them to.”

The state is required to pay benefits as soon as possible. To meet the mandate, the office staff struggles to get timely, accurate information to make an eligibility determination.

“Our mandate is clear,” she said. “And our results so far are encouraging.”